Florence Merriam Bailey
January 5th is National Bird Day in the U.S., a day that celebrates birdwatching and studying. In honor of the holiday, we’d like to introduce you to Florence Merriam Bailey.
Born in 1863, Bailey was encouraged to study natural history by her parents and became interested in ornithology at an early age. She attended Smith College, and although she originally only received a certificate she was granted a degree 35 years later, in 1921.
When she began studying birds, most ornithology was done by collecting specimens or studying skins. Bailey preferred to study living birds in the wild and in 1886 helped establish the Smith College Audubon Society, one of the first chapters of the national organization. She later helped establish a chapter in Washington D.C., as well as a local chapter of the Women’s National Science Club.
Bailey spent her life as an activist promoting the protection of birds, and studied them at every opportunity. In 1890, Bailey wrote and published Birds Through An Opera-Glass, a book that is considered the first modern bird field guide. After traveling west to recover from tuberculosis, she wrote My Summer in a Mormon Village, A-Birding On A Bronco, and Birds of Village and Field.
She returned east to Washington D.C., where she went on to write several more books with her husband, naturalist Vernon Bailey. Those books include Handbook of Birds of the Western United States and The Birds of New Mexico. She was the first woman awarded the Brewster Medal by the American Ornithologists’ Union in 1931. She was the first woman associate member of the union and its first woman fellow. Bailey died in September of 1948, many of her papers are now kept at the Smithsonian Institution in D.C.
Written by Mary Ratliff